Ever since I was a kid, a sense of wonderment would overtake me if someone said they had been at the 1969 music festival called Woodstock.
The name invoked an image of hippies, drugs and some of the most important music ever hit to the airwaves. The term “Woodstock” to my generation meant the pinnacle of counter-cultural beliefs that we tried in vain to re-create in the mid- to late ’90s.
Woodstock was our blueprint, and from its legend, we strained whatever ideas we could to try to fit in our own agendas as spotty outliers in society. But it wasn’t until recent research that I realized Woodstock, for all its fanfare, was a huge failure.
Stripping away the folklore, Woodstock was a money-making concert that failed to make money. After a last-minute location change, the festival of festivals was behind schedule and ill-equipped to handle half the crowd that would eventually destroy Max Yasgur’s dairy farm.
By Day Two, there was not enough food for the crowd, which had grown to 450,000 people. Bathroom facilities were scarce, and many of the free-love generation took to bathing naked in the adjoining creek.
Then rain almost shut down the concert. Equipment had to be covered, and exposed electrical cables were everywhere.
But the show, against all odds, went on to live in infamy.
Let’s back up to the year before Woodstock.
In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down at a Memphis hotel. The man who dreamed of equality had been killed for his beliefs.
A few months later, Robert Kennedy was shot on the campaign trail to be president. The country as a whole was on the mend and needed something to help it heal, especially for the youth, who would soon be running it.
Many young men were being shipped off to Vietnam, and the names of those who died there were televised nightly. Someone had to take on the role of dreamer after a slew of nightmares.
Enter the hope of peace and love in the form of what was supposed to be a concert for 50,000 people. The nation’s youth, almost subconsciously, made their way to Woodstock to look for answers and a possible catharsis to the mayhem surrounding them.
The concert may have not been a financial success, but it most certainly was a cultural one. Over those three days, the youth of the 1960s held a clinic in what it meant to help one another.
When rations were in short supply, those who had food shared it. I can only imagine what it was like to walk over the hill at Yasgur’s farm to view a sea of people with the same goal: to feel peace for three whole days.
I envy the sentiment and know no matter how hard anyone plans, it could never be repeated.
So happy 50th anniversary to this festival and the ideals it taught us as a society. I feel we can still learn a lot from it all these years later, especially given the political climate now.